Wallabies great Tim Horan has cautioned against a timeframe being imposed on rising star Jordan Petaia as he begins the road to recovery from a devastating shoulder injury.
Petaia went under the knife on Friday, undergoing a complete reconstruction after dislocating his left shoulder in a seemingly innocuous training accident in Argentina last week.
Initial reports have put the 19-year-old's recovery time at up to 20 weeks but Horan, who like Petaia made his Wallabies debut as a teen and suffered a career-threatening knee injury that kept him out of the game for a year, believes a public countdown to Petaia's return would be counterproductive for the rising star.
"Don't put a time on it, just come back when you're ready," Horan said.
"If they're saying 20 weeks, that's a gauge.
"It might take him 15 weeks, it might take him 25 weeks but I think us as media and Jordan himself, don't put a timeframe on it, come back when you're ready."
Petaia missed almost the entire Super Rugby season last year after suffering a foot injury just minutes into Queensland's second game.
While he was able to recover quickly to earn a spot in the Wallabies squad for the World Cup, Horan said missing a second Super Rugby season would be a mental challenge Petaia would have to overcome.
"It's always a challenge, probably more mentally than physically," he said.
"Physically, he gets an operation done (on Friday), so you go through that first week of a lot of pain and a lot of soul searching. Structurally, physically, the shoulder will be probably better than new after the operation, it's just rehab takes a lot out of you.
"But it's the mental space that's difficult that a lot of people find - I know I found personally, I know it's a long time ago - making sure that every day you go to physio twice a day, you're doing strengthening exercises - and you're not playing, you're not around the guys as much.
"He'll get a lot of support but he had so much time on the sidelines last year that in his mind, he'll go, 'here we go again'."
Queensland coach Brad Thorn said the Reds had put plenty of support in place for Petaia, including the club's Rugby Union Players Association player development manager Matt Smith, as well as coaches and others who liaised not only with Petaia but his family.
"The thing that's the test around Jordy is how tight this group is and how much they care about him and look after him," Thorn said.
"The group's pretty good and they were gutted for Jordy and I feel like it's a real hidden strength for us is how tight they are, it's as tight a team as I've been a part of."
Horan had no doubt the Reds and Wallabies had all the right support around Petaia.
But he said the teen had to be allowed time to grieve as well before starting the long journey back to full fitness.
"It's harder the second time around because you have all of the doubts. He's just a normal kid, he's not bulletproof and he'll have some mental worries," Horan said.
"Physically he'll be fine but mentally, his parents can only do so much, teammates can only do so much, psychologists can only do so much.
"I'm sure there will be lots of support there for him but you've got to let someone grieve as well and go: 'I'm disappointed, I'm upset'.
"That takes a bit of time and whether that's one week or one month, you've got to go through that process.
"It's fine for people to come out and go: 'No worries Jordy, you're a great player, you'll come back'.
"Yes he will, but he's just got to take his time with it."
Some have criticised rugby officials for allowing Petaia to compete against men so early but Horan said his recovery last year and subsequent performances for the Wallabies at the World Cup showed there was no need to treat him with kid gloves as long as he was given time to recover.
Getting game time at club level would be an important part of the return though, with some doubts likely to linger after back-to-back major injuries.
"You doubt your ability, you don't forget how to play but you doubt your ability and by the time you come back to play, you probably have a five percent doubt, is the injury going to hold up," Horan said.
"You would have done so much rehab, so much physio, so much strength and conditioning work that you're 95 percent confident but it takes a couple of games to feel that you're back.
"He's till eligible to play colts football. So come back and play 20 minutes off the bench in colts football, score three tries and then go back to grade football.
"He'll be fine, it just takes time and you can't rush it. And don’t' put a timeframe on when he's going to come back."